Farmers need commonsense solutions, not persecution
By David Bellavia | GOP Primary Candidate for Congress
On May 1, a top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official was forced to resign because two years ago he said the agency should hit violators with its full powers. In a 2010 speech, regional administrator Al Armendariz compared EPA enforcement to ancient Romans publicly crucifying lawbreakers as a deterrent.
After his revelation that EPA’s “general philosophy” is to “crucify” companies that do not bend to the agency’s suffocating regulations, Armendariz stepped down under pressure from Republicans in the House of Representatives. But his resignation in no way solves the problem of President Barack Obama and his EPA’s crucifixion philosophy.
Farmers in western New York tell me the EPA’s deterrent-by-lawsuit continues. But the federal Department of Labor is also strangling farmers with no workable labor solution.
I grew up right here in farm country and I believe our nation is only as strong and secure as its food supply. This is particularly frightening when farmers tell me they believe Washington’s agenda is to eliminate the agriculture industry — especially medium- to large-sized farms.
To begin, it costs every dairy farmer milking more than 199 cows at least $25,000 to assemble the documents required to feed EPA bureaucrats — that’s a stack of papers seven inches high. Farmers working in their barns by 5:30 every morning are forced to hire paperwork consultants to stay in business.
For farmers up before the sun, the Department of Labor makes matters worse as the day wears on. Labor is by far the biggest challenge: The federal government has promised a workable immigration policy since 1996. Sixteen years later, there is no solution in sight.
While seasonal crop farmers in the U.S. have a guest worker program, dairy farmers have none. Worse, all farms in nearby Canada have a stable guest worker code. Woefully understaffed, Western New York dairy farmers cannot compete.
President Obama’s Labor Department even tried to stop farming families from putting their own children to work on their own farms. My Republican Primary opponent naively thinks this idea is dead, but those of us from farm country know the proposal will be back — and soon.
But even if farmers have the laborers to operate, the EPA’s regulations are so onerous that profitable farming becomes nearly impossible. Farmers know dust is as natural as dirt; they take precautions to control this byproduct of their everyday activities. Still, President Obama’s EPA proposed dust control regulations that would kill farming as we know it.
Today, only a Republican-led Congressional bill is keeping the agency out of the ag-dust business.
The EPA’s new Pesticide General Permit regulation that went into effect November 2011 has also drawn farmer criticism. The regulation duplicates existing law, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, which has effectively regulated pesticides for 65 years.
The new permit does not improve food safety, add environmental protection or help struggling farmers.
President Obama’s EPA is baking so many layers into farm regulation that farmers now face unbearable business barriers. Steve Foglesong, former president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, recently said the president “is out of touch with rural America” and that he either “has no clue what regulations his bureaucratic agencies are proposing or he simply doesn’t care.”
Mr. Foglesong is right, but this is not new Democrat thinking. While presenting a national award to a Colorado Future Farmers of America member in 1998, then-Vice President Al Gore asked the student about his life plans. Upon hearing the young farmer wanted to continue in agriculture, the Vice President told him to forget it because U.S. food production is being shifted to the Third World.
This thinking does not sit well with me, or with Dale Stein, a local dairy farmer. He has recently seen more children of farming families returning home, eager to farm in New York, where one-sixth of the jobs are agriculture related. He is rightly worried they cannot.
“We’re at a crisis point in farming because we don’t even know if our kids will be allowed to farm,” Mr. Stein told me. “If the government doesn’t let us farm without burying us in regulation and give us the people to do it, farming as we know it will be dead in a decade.”
Not if I can help it, Mr. Stein. I grew up here and I will not let that happen. If I am elected to Congress, I will take farm country common sense to Washington, cut regulations, get farmers the labor solution they need — and stop the crucifixion.
David Bellavia is an author and non-profit management executive earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Conspicuous Service Cross for valor in Iraq War combat. An Orleans County native and resident of Batavia, he is running for Congress in the Republican Primary in the 27th Congressional District.